December 17, 2017

The Message of “Won’t Back Down” Gains Momentum

won't back downBy Julie Samrick

Is education reform the civil rights issue of today?  That’s the question being asked more frequently and it’s getting louder as parents, teachers, and concerned citizens aren’t willing to sit back in resignation and accept that our nation’s public school system is collectively failing.


Won’t Back Down begins with a heart-breaking scene of a young, dyslexic student forced to read aloud in front of her peers.  Her teacher is disengaged and the class is chaotic while still managing to be cruel to her.


Viola Davis co-stars as a burned out second grade teacher and Maggie Gyllenhall is a mother on a mission who takes action upon learning there is a legal process for parents who want to take over their kids’ failing schools.  


It is the behemoth of bureaucracy that is the enemy in the film and in real life too- so much red tape is what keeps many concerned citizens quiet about their neighborhood schools.  This film is a reminder that we can all take action.


Won’t Back Down tackles many of the same themes as the 2010 documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’. Families competing for limited spots at the rare, decent schools in their neighborhoods are commonplace. Underfunding and teachers’ unions are underscored too.


Teachers’ unions are often pointed to as the chief culprits, with ineffective, tenured teachers standing smugly behind them.  But who are these teachers?  Isn’t teaching a calling?  Those of us who have done it, or are doing it, certainly aren’t called to the profession for the money.  So what’s going on? 


Davis’s character symbolizes the formally great, idealistic teachers who have been beaten down by low expectations, low parental involvement, and lack of support. Gyllenhall is her foil, an idealistic firecracker, reigniting Davis’s passion and reminding her why she was first called to teach to begin with.  Her husband mentions that at first Nona (Viola Davis) “purposely chose a school that needed her most.”


This film is PG because of lots of education subject matter.  Teens should go with their parents and then join in the conversation to help answer: How do we make schools succeed?


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